Ishvari Corea no more


Ishvari Corea

Pioneer librarian Mrs. Ishvari Corea, one-time former Chief Librarian of the Colombo Public Library passed away on Tuesday (May 14). She was 94 at the time of her death following a brief illiness. Her funeral will take place today at General Cemetery Kanatta at 4.00 pm. She was associated with the library for well over 40 years.

It was during her tenure that the State of the art new library was constructed. She was also the Chairperson of National Library Services Board of Sri Lanka from 1989 to 1994.

The Colombo Public Library is her great achievement and the success of the National Library and Documentation Services Board is due to her and others who preceded and followed her.

Ishvari Wijesinghe Kannangara was born in 1925 to a prosperous family in the Wijesinghe Walauwe in Bandaragama, one but the last in a family of a brother and three sisters. They all held high posts in their different vocations.

Ishvari studied at Visakha Vidyalaya, Bambalapitiya, and then entered the University of Ceylon to read for a BA honours degree in Sinhala with English as a subsidiary. She graduated in 1945. Later, she followed a post graduate course in library and information science at the University of London. Her working life started with her joining the tutorial staff of Visakha Vidyalaya. This was when careers were frowned upon for girls. Her mother, however, was far sighted and probably knowing her daughter to be a conscientious doer, agreed to her taking on a teaching job, but with the stipulation it had to be at Visakha and no other school. In 1950 she changed careers from pedagogy to librarianship; from giving service to only girl-children to giving service to the entirety of society.

She married Dr C.V.S Corea, a homoeopathic physician, in May 1960 and moved to live with him in his home at Gregory’s Road. Her step-son was Dr. Gamini Corea, well known economist, civil servant and diplomat who was Secretary General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development and Under Secretary of the UN (1974-84).

Ishvari transferred from teaching at Visakha Vidyalaya to the Colombo Public Library as Assistant Librarian in 1950 and rose to be its Chief Librarian in 1961. This was the period when librarianship gained more prominence and was considered a necessary service. Librarians had to undergo training and the service became an honoured profession. UNESCO helped in many ways and librarians were given exposure to information services as carried out in more developed countries.

The Public Library was in a converted house at Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7. The need for a custom built library was felt. Ishvari Corea as Chief Librarian used the influence she wielded to ask for a modern, state-of-the-art library. The Colombo Municipal Council with B. Sirisena Cooray as Mayor accommodated her request and released necessary funds. She oversaw the construction of the new library, again on Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, with many of her ideas incorporated in the building. The new building was completed in 1980 and the Public Library moved into it. It progressed from strength to strength under her guidance adding new services such as mobile libraries, a children’s section, an A/V department and Braille book collection to mention but four innovations introduced by her, while branch libraries were opened in other parts of Colombo and the suburbs.

UNESCO organized and held the National Library Conference in Colombo in 1967 which laid the foundation for the Ceylon National Library Services Board which was instituted in 1970. Prof Michael Browne, UNESCO’s consultant architect, designed the building at the new premises of the NLSB on Independence Avenue, Colombo 7. Mrs. Corea was appointed the Board’s Chairperson in 1989, the fifth after its inception in 1971, and left in 1994. The highlight of this sector of her career could be the fact of her being Chairperson when the National Library was declared open by President Ranasinghe Premadasa, on 27 April 1990.

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